Insect collections are immeasurably important as working libraries for insect identification and diagnostics. Identification is the key to accessing available information in the scientific literature and is made easier by comparison with specimens of confirmed identity in collections like these. Insect collections are also valuable resources for researchers examining insects from across geographical ranges—for example, for genetic studies of specimens of Ips (Coleoptera: Scolytidae).
Researchers involved in biological and biodiversity studies and other research projects deposit voucher specimens in these collection to confirm species identification in relation to a specific research project. Later, if there is any doubt about the identity of the specimens on which the research was based, the voucher specimens can be used to confirm their identity.
The GLFC collection
The Great Lakes Forestry Centre (GLFC) insect collection contains approximately 165,000 specimens. Most of the insects in the collection are from Ontario, but there are also specimens from other Canadian provinces and other countries. Most represent insects found feeding on forest trees and shrubs.
The specimens in the GLFC collection are arranged alphabetically by Family, Genus, and Species rather than systematically. This allows technicians and seasonal staff unfamiliar with insect taxonomy to readily locate species and supplement the collection with new records and specimens. The arrangement also permits experienced workers to quickly access material in unfamiliar families.
The collection has three component parts: pinned adults, blown and freeze-dried larvae, and different life stages (egg, larvae/nymph, pupae, adult) preserved in alcohol.
There are primarily 6 orders of insects represented in the GLFC insect collection: Lepidoptera, Coleoptera, Hymenoptera, Diptera, Homoptera and Hemiptera. Lepidoptera is one of the largest of the orders with approximately 1,734 species represented; Coleoptera is represented by 1,493 species; Hymenoptera, 1,173 species; Diptera, 485 species; and Homoptera and Hemiptera combined are represented by 500 species.
Insect taxonomists are currently mapping DNA from many insect species, with the help of molecular scientists. Reference collections like the GLFC collection are an essential resource for ensuring that the markers developed can be verified as distinct from native, established or invasive species. GLFC researchers are working with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to develop molecular markers for the rapid identification of potential invasive pests. Specimens of Tetropium (Coleoptera: Cerambycidae) from the collection have been used in this manner.
When the Canadian Forest Service was established, in 1899, people with a general interest in entomology, including curious homeowners, forest industry employees and amateur entomologists, submitted insect specimens for identification.
Dr. J. M. Swaine, the first full-time forest entomologist employed by the Canadian government, was hired in 1912. He recommended that an “intelligence service” be established in co-operation with forest industries. Specimens were collected, recorded and studied, but it wasn’t until 1936 that the Forest Insect Survey was formally established in response to the European spruce sawfly outbreak in eastern Canada.
Most of the specimens in the GLFC collection are a result of the activities of the Forest Insect Survey. (In 1962, tree diseases were added to the survey, which was renamed the Forest Insect and Disease Survey [FIDS]).
The GLFC collection is a composite of two collections: one that began in Ottawa (known then as the Ottawa Survey Centre) and was built up largely between 1938 and 1952, and one located in Sault Ste. Marie, which has continued to expand since its inception in 1944. In July 1965, the Ottawa collection was transferred to Sault Ste. Marie and the two collections were merged.
The GLFC insect collection has been used extensively over the years, in terms of both annual loans and numbers of specimens loaned, with most of the loans resulting in published studies.